Featured in our September/October 2018 issue of Compete Magazine

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) has grown into a strong, open supporter of its women players, coaches, team and front office personnel. And in 2014 it finally recognized not only the league’s open lesbians but also became the only professional sports league to openly acknowledge and recruit its many LGBTQ+ fans.

Compete has covered many stories on the progressive nature of the WNBA and I’ve written some of them. But as a gay man, it made me especially happy to see that the league made another first with the hiring of openly gay Curt Miller as the head coach and general manager of the Connecticut Sun in 2016. His hiring made sports history since it’s believed he became the first openly gay male head coach in U.S. professional team sports. The WNBA showed that its commitment to diversity and inclusion also included its gay male employees as well as the women.

In 1994 Miller became an assistant coach at Syracuse and he decided at age 25 to finally explore his sexuality. Even though his older brother and sister were also LGBTQ+, up until then Miller had masked his homosexuality. But then he met Jamie Broadwell and fell in love, a relationship that lasted until 2015.

Not long after their relationship began, Miller and Jamie adopted five-year-old twins, Brian and Shawn Seymore belonging to Jamie’s sister. Due to her substance abuse issues she wasn’t able to care for them and asked Curt and Jamie to raise them. The couple stepped up and Miller became legal guardian for the twins for the next 18 years.

Miller’s coaching record is enviable – his teams have won five MAC regular season championships and five MAC Tournament championships and he was named the 2017 WNBA Coach of the Year. Yet with all his coaching achievements, being a father has been one of Miller’s most rewarding experiences. With a recent trip home to visit Brian who is in college at Indiana University studying journalism, Miller reflected on the trip: “What was most enjoyable was being able to do dad things for him and feel good about it.”

Although Miller and Brian were practically inseparable during the trip, there was something missing. Unfortunately, Shawn didn’t take the same path as his twin brother. As the boys entered high school their paths diverged. While Brian was pursuing a life as an academic and athlete, Shawn chose to get involved with a bad crowd and spent his time doing drugs; he got hooked on opioids and wound up breaking the law.

In 2014 Shawn was remanded to an Indiana correctional facility for 13 years following a conviction for armed robbery. Speaking about Shawn, Miller said, “He couldn’t have been more of an angel, I don’t know what changed.” Unfortunately, with Shawn’s mother’s history of drug abuse, sometimes there’s not much a parent can do until the child is ready to change. But Miller never gives up on Shawn; he keeps in communication with him and is waiting for Shawn to have a second chance.

Curt Miller has always coached women’s basketball. Starting his coaching career in 1991 at Cleveland State, Curt went on to Syracuse and Colorado State in assistant coaching positions. Then in 2001 he moved to Bowling Green and then to the Indiana Hoosiers as a head coach before being hired into the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.

After a season as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Sparks, Miller was hired as the head coach for the Connecticut Sun in December 2015. As an openly gay coach and a family man since the mid-90s, the media attention of being an openly gay head coach in professional basketball has surprised him a bit. In an interview with the Hartford Courant’s reporter John Altavilla, he said it was well known throughout the women’s basketball community that he was gay; to him, it was a non-story. But it has caused some retrospection on his part.

LGBTQ+ visibility and representation in the world is truly important. That’s especially true for successful openly gay individuals in the sports world to be visible. It helps show that being LGBTQ+ is not about a “lifestyle” or an “agenda” – that being LGBTQ+ is a normal part of the human condition. What’s NOT normal is being afraid of losing your job if people discover you’re gay. Miller was out for years within his family, friends and women’s basketball communities but he never deliberately called attention to his sexual orientation.

Early on in his career his reluctance was about job advancement or even job loss. But Miller now realizes that he also didn’t want to let down the LGBTQ+ community by not being the perfect role model. Without any gay role models in sports to emulate as he was growing up, he knew his life wasn’t perfect enough to be a role model. And later, when his son Shawn got into trouble, he didn’t want people being able to use it to say children need to be raised by a mother and father, not two fathers. There is a lot of unrecognized pressure on role models to be perfect!

But that has changed for Miller. He now realizes that the perfect role model actually shows his imperfections, an act that enables others to relate to his humanness and release their own fears of not being perfect. Miller is ready to help the next generation of athletes or coaches looking for a proud LGBTQ+ role model. At the Sun’s Pride Night in July against the Phoenix Mercury, Miller was on a panel that included Sun player Layshia Clarendon, Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner of the Mercury, and LGBTQ++advocates Wade Davis and Katie Barnes.

In a recent Connecticut Sun SunCast, Miller shared with host David Siegel that he feels like he’s “wasted a couple of decades” not being a male role model in his collegiate days. He says he was comfortable in his own skin for a long time but without talking a lot about being gay. Miller is now enthusiastically using his platform as the first openly gay coach of a professional sports team to help inspire young LGBTQ+ athletes and future coaches.

Now that he’s getting more comfortable about speaking out, Miller is ready to make up for lost time by also sharing his son Shawn’s story of opioid addiction and speaking out against it and prescription drug abuse. Miller says of all his opponents, opioids are the toughest opponent he’s ever had to fight. It’s also the thing he’s most passionate about in his life, seeing it as a new purpose in his life beyond basketball.

Miller has always said the he’s always wanted to be known as “the successful basketball coach that happens to be gay as opposed to the gay coach who people felt was a pretty good coach.” From my perspective, I think he’ll be known as the successful gay coach and dad who is also an inspirational role model for untold numbers of individuals.

By Dirk Smith